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Our fondest wish for 2021 is that we collectively agree to retire the phrase “in these uncertain times.” (Seriously, don’t even use it ironically.)

But when we look beyond semantics, we can see a lot more on the horizon for the coming year that’s equally worth discussion.

2020 was a year of change for everyone and everything, and out of home was no exception. While at times the new world proved difficult to navigate, it also prompted net positive changes. We were forced to do our jobs differently, and that led to some creative ideas and approaches that we may not have embraced otherwise. Many times, we went outside our comfort zone. Many times, we, and our clients, were better off for it.

As the new year begins, we plan to keep applying that new perspective to out of home. Here are five things we’ll be watching for in the coming year and how they could impact the industry as it returns from an often-challenging, often-rewarding 2020.

1. Continued Impact of the Pandemic

It would be nice to think we could wave a magic want and 2021 would go back to normal. But much as we’re all eager to bid 2020 goodbye, we know that won’t happen. Some of the major trends that impacted out of home this year, including stay-at-home orders and slashed advertising budgets, will continue to have an effect in 2021.

The big difference is, we’re at least better prepared for it now. The industry is adapting. Things that were hurdles eight months ago are now mere inconveniences.

We’ve seen every industry, well beyond advertising, adjust to the pandemic and do great things. And we’ve seen that happen in OOH, too. The year sparked some truly outstanding campaigns amidst the chaos, and we anticipate even more next year, even if the chaos becomes part of the overall theme of OOH.

2. An Uptick in OOH Advertising Revenue

Yes, we just told you the pandemic will continue to show its wrath in 2021, but trust us — things will get better, and one area where you’ll see that almost immediately is out of home advertising. Here’s why:

  1. Some live events will begin to return by the second half of next year. We’re not yet sure what that means for Coachella (currently scheduled for April but likely to be moved back if it happens) or some of the other major events, but after a year away, brands and attendees are hungry for live performances, people and partying. Advertisers will invest to be part of the joyous festivities.
  2. Billboards will see gains beyond the traditional major markets. The real growth will be fueled by demand in the Midwest and outside the traditional urban centers. One reason is that the pandemic-related lockdowns have affected urban areas more than rural ones. If you want your billboard in a place where people are moving around, you need to look beyond NYC and LA.
  3. Outside is the new inside. People can congregate more safely outdoors, with less risk of virus transmission. Since advertisers want to reach these people wherever they can, billboards and other street furniture become the obvious choice.
  4. Brands will be ready to spend. Many of them slashed budgets in 2020. No one had extra money, and no one was going anywhere, so why bother with marketing? With the economy reopening in 2021 with the distribution of the vaccine, we’ll see budgets plump and brands become eager to reach the people they disconnected with over the past 12 months. Billboards and out of home will be a big part of that—OOH was one of the few segments of traditional media to see ad spending growth the past few years.

3. A Sharp Jump in Digital OOH Ads

Yes, digital out of home has seen tremendous growth in the past five years, with billboards along up 50% to 9,600. But we anticipate an even faster rise this year.

First, the pandemic underscored the utility of touchless technology — and hitting a button to post a digital ad is a solitary task, while putting up a billboard requires more people and more interaction.

But beyond the practical deployment aspects, digital is simply the future of everything. It’s instantaneous. It’s ingenious. It’s involving. Now that the concerns about digital OOH and safety have been laid to rest, this cleaner and more modern form of advertising should get a wider rollout.

4. Greater Focus on Aesthetics for Billboards & More

The advances in technology could result in a colder, less personal platform for out of home. Luckily, a rise in concern over the aesthetics of billboards, from how they fit into the urban environment to how much energy they consume, has prompted many in the industry to reexamine the concept of billboards.

We think it’s a welcome reflection period. Making the platform blend better into the environment can make billboards less obtrusive, one of the issues often cited by those who complain about the format. More than that, it elevates the messaging. When you have something beautiful to share, people pay attention.

Look no further than the West Hollywood renaissance to see an example of how impactful this approach can be. The creativity in designs enhances the landscape and gives the billboards greater resonance.

5. More Interactivity and Responsiveness

Universal Music Beautiful Day NYDSF
Universal Music – U2 Beautiful Day Campaign

Billboards talk to you. Billboards detect the weather. Billboards know the time of day. As technology has improved, their capabilities have expanded, and you can expect more of that in 2020.

People like responsiveness. They like things that change depending on outside variables. It makes the advertising feel more personal and creative, and that ups the chance someone will remember the ad.

For instance, we recently worked on a campaign for U2’s iconic studio album “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” The lyrics that popped up on the digital bus shelter display reflected the time of day or weather, so you’d see a verse from the song “Beautiful Day” at sunny mid-day or a verse about darkness from “Walk On” as evening fell. People felt invested in the campaign. Their high engagement levels underscored that investment.

Of course, this is just a sampling of what we’ll see in OOH this year. To borrow another of those phrases we’d like to retire, trends can always “pivot.” To stay current, get in touch with DASH TWO.

1 Replay added “5 Things to Watch for in OOH in 2021

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